The Journal of Ordinary Thought, Chicago Theatre Company. Viewed up close, a mosaic is a collection of random fragments. Step back and the pieces blend to form a clear, vivid image. In The Journal of Ordinary Thought, the fragments are poems and bits of life stories: since 1991, Chicago’s South Side Neighborhood Writing Alliance has held workshops and collected residents’ writings in a magazine of the same title.

Some pieces exhibit the patterns of violence often seen in Hollywood enactments of “the hood”–innocent people victimized or young parents exchanging hope for drugs. But this portrait also shows patterns of connection–women sitting on front steps talking about their children and the ecstasy of a night at Red Lobster. There are patterns of community at the favorite neighborhood joint, and scar-tissue patterns of grief at the loss of a husband, father, or child. All these stories are told in the simple, truthful words of the people who lived them. What’s more, adapters David Barr and Mignon McPherson have beautifully and sensitively orchestrated the evening: when hopelessness starts to overtake it, someone comes along to remind everyone of the pricelessness of each day.

The uniformly exceptional cast play multiple characters, scarcely identified by name. While each performance is a distinctive, colorful fragment, the ensemble creates the most lasting impression. Likewise there’s no single, linear plot. When all the pieces come together, however, one realizes that a powerful, soulful story has been told. –Kim Wilson